Honor, respect, gratitude, appreciation…those word echoed off the walls of Tominac Fitness Center at Hunter
Army Air field, early on May 3, as Honor Flight of Savannah had its 25th departure ceremony of veterans heading for Washington D.C.
They gathered the night before, 26 Veterans of different branches of the military, from across southeast Georgia and the Low Country of South Carolina. They met for the first time at the Elks Lodge 183 in Savannah. The Veterans, one WWII era Vet, five Korean War Vets, 20 Vietnam Veterans, their guardians and family members, were treated to dinner and southern hospitality by members of the Elks Lodge.
There, those selected by the Honor Flight of Savannah, soon began telling war stories and shared their experiences and what they encountered on foreign soil long ago but the memories will stay with them forever.
It was also an evening to meet those who would become travel companions for the next three days.
A thank you, in the form of a goodies box from Operation Gratitude, and T-shirts for the Honorees were handed out to grateful recipients. An evening filled with excitement of coming adventure had to end, as all had to be ready early at the staging area the next morning.
On departure day, Tominac Fitness Center was a busy hub with the arrival of the honorees. After a bit of confusion, everybody was checked in and name tags on lanyards were displayed.
Three Veterans from our community , MSG (ret) USAF Robert Schuchman , ( not pictured ) 1SG ( ret ) USA, Jack Lewis , SSG (ret) USA Mary Casio, who had the honor of being only female veteran on this trip, and their guardians 1SG (ret ) USA Jeffery Foster and SFC (ret ) USA Frank Socozzafavia met again and got ready for their departure.
Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, units of the Coast Guard and the Navy were in attendance to honor those who served before them. The air was filled with patriotic tunes played be the 3rd Infantry band. Local news media was there, too.
The always supportive USO, was serving much needed coffee and later breakfast, doing what they do best, serving those deserving.
After the posting of the colors by the color guard and the Pledge of Allegiance, one could see that the veterans were truly moved by the outpouring of support from those who came to see them.
Honored guests that attended the ceremony included Major General Leopoldo A. Quintos Jr, Commanding General of the 3rd Infantry Division and Col. Jason Wolter, Garrison Commander, 3rd ID / HAAF.
A speech filled with gratitude honoring men and women veterans of past wars was given by LTC. Kenneth Dwyer, Garrison Commander of Hunter Army Airfield, reminding today’s soldiers not to forget the sacrifices made by those who served in the military of yesterday. An order, back to active duty was issued at the end of the speech, to get on the bus and to tour monuments and statues erected to honor each respective branch of service. The honorees would be relieved of duty upon their arrival back to HAAF on May 5.
I must not forget the quilt ceremony, where a select few veterans, WWII veteran and the only female soldier among them, received beautiful stitched quilts by the Quilts for Veterans.
After a concluding ceremony to honor our proud Veterans, it was time to leave. But not before another salutation of members of the Patriot Guard Riders, who lined the walkway to the bus along with service members. There were more cheers, applause, patriotic pride, and smiles and a few tears.
As the bus pulled away from the curb, escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders and Military Police, well-wishers waved. I was glad to have been part of this and proud to be retired military wife.
The group arrived in our nation’s capital and the next day toured the sights they were ordered to see, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Women in Service for America Memorials. They visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and attended the changing of the Guards Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. When they were asked, “What was the most impressive sight?” the answer was “Everything.” The honorees were grateful to have had the opportunity to see it all, thanks to the Honor Flight Organization and other supporters who made the trip possible.